No team in the NFL is complete, and the Green Bay Packers are no exception. Coming into the year, they were expected to be the most dominant team in the NFL. While they remain at a perfect 7-0 record, their defense is performing far below expectations.
In my humble opinion, Green Bay's bye week could not have come at a better time.
Earlier in the year, the secondary was struggling to defend the pass, allowing more than 1,100 yards through the air in just their first three games. Since that time the secondary has gradually improved; but as the secondary has been picking up their game, the front seven looks as though it has regressed.
Earlier in the year, Green Bay ranked No. 1 against the run. However, after conceding 96 yards to Steven Jackson and the Rams, and then 175 yards to the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, their rank against the run has fallen to No. 9.
Furthermore, Green Bay lacks the ability to penetrate up the middle. While Clay Matthews continues to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks by getting in their face, nobody else has been able to get consistent penetration to help complement Matthews' defensive contributions.
But that's why this year's bye week will be so important.
Last season, the "next man up" mantra arose simply because it seemed as though whoever was thrown in the lineup was able to fill in admirably as the injured player's replacement. I don't think that has been the case so far, nor will be for the rest of the season.
Injuries to Nick Collins (neck), Charles Woodson (foot), Sam Shields (concussion), Tramon Williams (shoulder), and Clay Matthews (quad), have deeply affected this unit's ability to play effectively. These are some of the defense's biggest players, and they need time to heal.
Woodson and Matthews were both limited participants in last week's practice. With two full weeks to let their bodies rest, it could mean that they could return as full participants against the San Diego Chargers in Week 9.
Williams will also be another two weeks removed from the shoulder injury he suffered against the Saints in Week 1, so hopefully by the end of the bye week he could be back to full strength.
However, Mike Neal is the big enchilada that could provide the biggest solution to the Packers' defensive woes.
Last season, Green Bay's biggest weakness was their inability to run the football. James Starks was given the nickname "The Savior", because he came off the bench and had substantial impact. In just his first postseason start he made an immediate impact, rushing for 123 yards. He continued to compensate for the Packers' running incapabilities all the way to through their victory in Super Bowl XLV.
I think that Mike Neal will be a similar case. Green Bay's biggest weakness is arguably their inability to penetrate up the middle and put pressure the quarterback.
Should Neal play well opposite Matthews, and should Matthews be fully recovered from his quad injury, this defense may finally begin to start turning things around and start playing like it did late last season.
Once that begins, Dom Capers can finally focus more on run defense, and the secondary (that will be healthier) should have less to worry about and therefore have less pressure on them.
The key to this year's bye week is simply "get healthy". I'm tired of coming up with excuses for this team, but all this things considered, I'm willing to give them another chance, and I believe they'll pull through.
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